RSS

Category Archives: Evangelism

The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

I was reminded today that … well, the fastest growing churches in our land are producing guilt-ridden workaholics rather than a community of men and women who believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of [their] faith, the salvation of [their] souls!” (1 Pet. 1:9). Rather than the celebration of peace with God, I fear we promote a spiritual anxiety in people who feel like, if they are following God the way they should, their lives should be fixed by now. 

LCoachI was reminded of this tension as I read this Facebook post today. It’s from an old friend, talking about his church’s upcoming weekend services. Needless to say, the names are fictitious:

Tomorrow is going to be an epic day at our Midtown Campus! John Doe, Jim Doe and Josh Doe combining on a message about Lazarus. Jessie Doe narrating. Jen Doe communicating. Jeremy Doe leading music. Our bulletins to take notes on… they are toe tags that read: Deceased: Lazarus. Physician: Jesus. Funeral Director: Martha. Case #: John 11. We’ll be looking at overcoming obstacles, trusting for miracles, and removing entanglements. I’m so excited for how God is going to use this in my life and in the lives of others.

It sounds like quite a production. There was a day when I would have been proud to be a part of such an “epic day”.

Now, there are a few things about this enterprise that make me squirm a bit, but aren’t that big a deal. All of the terminology is strikingly not-church (campus, communicating, leading music, bulletins). Jesus being termed as “physician” (only?). Playing into our culture’s CSI-enflamed media passion for crime dramas. It’s obvious that this service has been designed with seekers in mind … so the gathering seems produced to capture the fancy of non-Christians, more than to engage its own membership in the Biblically-prescribed worship of God through Christ.

LAZWhat I find most disheartening, though, is the hermeneutic of the “message”. The story of Lazarus is a narrative story that speaks of the grandness and glory of God, the power of resurrection, and the beauty-for-ashes reality of salvation! It’s about how great God is, and how we should praise Him, be assured by Him, and believe in Him. That’s why “these things were written” (John 20:31).

But, in true contemporary Evangelical fashion (and I say this with great warmth, since I, too, have been an Evangelical for so many decades), they’ve taken this glorious story, and turned it into a self-help seminar. Jesus is the one who can help us overcome obstacles and remove entanglements … perhaps even perform a miracle if we trust in Him correctly. The “gospel” behind this version of the story is: Incorporate Jesus into your life, and He will make it run more smoothly. Your life is what matters, and Jesus is here to help.

Again, I have to admit that I would probably have taken the same tack on this passage a few years ago. That’s before I was introduced to the classical hermeneutic of “law and gospel”. Preaching the law (telling people what they should do to be pleasing to God) is a painful-yet-necessary word for those who aren’t Christians. They need to know why they should repent of their sins, and seek to be forgiven by God. But, for the truly repentant, broken soul – the Christian – what’s needed is not the law, the but comforting assuranceget to work of the gospel: God’s love overwhelms your sin, so that you are at absolute peace with God. This gospel also serves as the greatest motivator to righteous conduct.

John 11 is, as much as any passage in the New Testament, a celebration of the completed work of Jesus – the gospel! To turn this around and use this text to instruct people how they should do their faith (appropriate the life-helps offered by Jesus … not in this passage, but perhaps elsewhere) lays burdens on the lives of believers from which Jesus came to alleviate! And, as we baptize our services in the trappings of contemporary culture, affirming to our world that you aren’t supposed to be like God, but that we and God want to be just like them … we fail to tell unbelievers that what they need most is a repentant heart, not the instructions of a life coach.

I’m so thankful for those who have recently nurtured me in classical understandings of the gospel. I wish I had known these things earlier. I am genuinely sad for the lives I’ve stressed out over the years of overemphasizing “practical application” (the “so what” and “now what”). Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer of repentance, and continue to lead me to an authentically redemptive proclamation of the gospel.

– EO

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1st Day of Christmastide

advent1“How can you believe in Jesus when there’s so much hatred in the world?”

Today’s Christmastide text is 1 John 4:7-16. All of these truths come from this passage:

  • if-god-exists-then-why-is-there-so-much-evil-in-the-world-todayThe Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Merry Christmas!
  • God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. The coming of Jesus is more than a sentimental idea … it’s a revelation of divine love, and is meant to change the way we live our lives.
  • Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. Right. 
  • In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son. If we want more love in the world, we need to realize it’s found in God, not in ourselves without God.
  • Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. An un-loving world is a godless world. Knowing God is the only genuine antidote for loveless living. Trying hard to be more loving, without God … well, it’s a cul-de-sac.
  • We have known and believe the love that God has for us. This is what’s critically missing in our world. Many don’t know about what Jesus means, and many who have heard don’t believe.
  • By this we know that we abide in him and he in us – he has given us of his Spirit … God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. God visited us in the person of Jesus that first Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us. Ever since, He has come to open hearts and minds by His Holy Spirit – the very presence of God, abiding in us.

love-is-possibleStrange that the world blames God for its lack of love. In Christ He came to show how we should live — and by our experiencing His Spirit, He empowers us to make it happen. In short – God has offered the solution to the hatred in our world.

So, who’s really to blame for our lack of love? To a degree, Christians … who have defaulted in our call to share the truths of Christmas, and encourage knowledge of and belief in God. But mostly, it’s our collective penchant for godlessness, which seems to be growing more every day in the Western world.

Lord, you have gifted the world with an amazing capacity to be loving and compassionate. Thank you that millions are receiving this truth around the world. I pray for our country, which seems bent on detaching from You, and trying to do our best without you. Please help your people to effectively live out Spirit-inspired love, and share the truths of Jesus boldly. Amen. 

– EO

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why People Don’t Like Christians – Part 1

Christians aren’t very popular these days. Never have been, really. This is no mystery, for people who have called themselves Christians have given the world plenty of reasons for a less than favorable review.

ghandi-quoteOne of primary reasons people don’t like Christians is because they think us to be hypocrites. We regularly fail to live up to the high standards to which we aspire, and about which we preach. We compound the world’s frustration when we lobby to see those standards embraced by everyone (e.g., championing “family values”, even political legislation) when we do such a poor job of living them out ourselves.

Genuine Christianity, however, is not hypocritical. In fact, it is the only faith that isn’t.

You see, all other religions are built on the idea that we must muster up a righteous life in order to please God. In all other faiths, the assumption is a) we are good enough to live right, and b) we are committed to living right. I can, and will. If you truly can, then claim you will, and then don’t … that’s being a hypocrite.

(And some people think this is what Christianity is: A group of people who have decided to live as the Bible describes, and who tell others they should, too. Sunday services, then, are a combination ethics class/pep rally, designed to motivate people to get it together. Then, when they go out and live poorly yet again during the next week, the world brands this approach to religion as a failure. And they’re right.)

But genuine Christianity, rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the other manning-quoteBiblical writers,is totally different.

We believe that man is not good enough to live right. God describes right living in the scriptures, and affirms in those same scriptures that it’s unattainable. Sadly (for us), He also said that only the righteous are compatible with heaven. We can’t, and won’t. Wait … we can’t do what we need to to get to heaven? What hope do we have?

This is where Jesus comes in: He lived among us as the one and only man Who lived a righteous life. (Have you ever heard someone say something bad about Jesus?) He then told us how if would be possible for us to be righteous (and get to heaven), too. Quite simply, He has to do it … in us. This is what Christianity refers to as the Holy Spirit – God Himself, living in us, being righteous through us. Jesus refers to this phenomenon as being born again in the Spirit. He can, and will. It’s the only way. And this is totally different than any other religion.

You may say, “so, if Christians have God living in them to be righteous through them, why are they still so lame?” You’ve got us there. We ought to be living our lives at a very high quality, but often look no better than our neighbor, and sometimes even worse. A few reasons why:

  1. Counterfeit Christianity abounds. As I already mentioned, there are many people practicing “a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Sadly, they claim to be able to live well, but can’t. They’re hypocrites. I’m afraid this group makes up the majority of Christians in our churches today.
  2. Appropriating divine empowerment is a discipline. Theologian J. I. Packer says this: “The agent of [making us live well] is the Holy Spirit who works in us to make us will and act according to God’s good pleasure. Again and again we need to go down on our knees and admit our helplessness and ask to be empowered … If this sounds easy, it shouldn’t, because [it] is a battle. We never have our hearts entirely set on the things of God, so that even if our actions are right by external standards, our hearts are never quite right. It is struggle and conflict all the way.” The Spirit is available and willing, but we must “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16ff) in order to experience Him at work in us. And we often don’t.

This is why we are supposed to gather as a church. It isn’t primarily get a coffee, get emotionally “fired up” through faux rock-concert experience, and to recommit our hearts and minds to a series of best-intention propositions dispensed by a life coach. This approach to church will never fail to produce hypocrites.

No, church is so much more than that! We gather in the presence of God to recalibrate our spiritual relationship with the God Who can lead and empower us to live well. That’s why we confess our sins (primarily the sin of not living in the Spirit in the days prior), hear His Word (Heb. 4:12), receive empowering grace through His ordained sacraments, and experience the Holy Spirit through the yes-x-no-bettergiftings all our brothers and sisters around us.

People who practice this type of Christianity (e.g., real Christianity) are still fickle, still bumble, and will still likely disappoint the non-believing world by their less-than-Jesus-like lifestyles. But they’re not hypocrites — at least in the traditional sense. They know that they’re in a battle (“struggle and conflict all the way”), and they make no claims that they’ll bat 1,000%. They are not too surprised when they fail. Still, they forget yesterday, and press into today, prayerfully clinging to the God Who can bear the fruit of righteousness in them now.

On behalf of Christians everywhere, I apologize for the poor examples given by people who call themselves Christians, but are simply powerless moralists. I don’t like them either.

dont-like-selvesMy encouragement is for all to look beyond those poor representations of an incredible faith. See instead the real deal, the substance of genuine, classical Christian living. I am sure that, if our churches were full of these humble, prayerful, fruitful people, that Christianity would have a much better name in our world. You might even be interested in joining their ranks.

– EO

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Wrestling with Fred: “Ministers”

Frederick Beuchner is one of my favorite authors. His insights into the spiritual life, with Christ at its center, have been very formative to me. I recently signed up for a daily Buechner quote – great!

Wrestling with today’s quote from Fred …

“Ministers have their heads in the clouds, which is just where you should have your head when your mind is on higher things … Ministers are as anachronistic as alchemists or chimney sweeps … The perspective of ministers is so hopelessly distorted and biased that there is no point in listening to them unless you happen to share it.”

Hmmm…

1 Corinthians 2:13-15 comes to mind. Here, Paul says This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 

So, to the world, we believers are perceived as “hopelessly distorted and biased” fools. It should come as no shock that people without the Spirit will not listen. Because the cannot listen. In Jesus’ terms, they don’t have “ears to hear”.

The simple, Biblical truth is that Spirit must precede the embrace of truth. We can’t make Spirit happen – only God can. But, we are promised that “the gospel … is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Gospel -> Spirit -> Truth. Any alteration or deletion from this process will prove impotent.

GospelSpiritTruthI’ve been a minister for decades. Sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that I’m some kind of  divinely appointed DA for the Lord, guiding testimonies in the court of public opinion. If I do my job right, I’ll be able to lead the “jury” to my appointed conclusions. That’s why I’ve been lured into my share of (what I have found to be counter-productive) social media rants, thinking that my clear delineation of spiritual realities through Spirit-taught (Biblical) words will win the day.

Oops. Fred reminds me to embrace the spiritual, Spirit-taught realities: Don’t be surprised or angry when (not if) the Biblical truth you share is misunderstood and rejected. It will be – it’s written in stone.

Before we all resign our pulpits, let’s remember Paul’s other words in the same chapter: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). To this end we preach … head fixed in the clouds, rejoicing with the faithful, and experiencing the collective sanctification that will shape us into a community that first lives and then proclaims the gospel … through which the number of anachronistic fools will swell. 

– EO

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Love Ya, But You’re Not Family

The common religious “logic” these days is that all religions are different versions of the same thing – and attempt to be right with the one God. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever else, we’re called to “coexist” with an understanding that none of these expressions are wrong, and that they are intrinsically the same.coexistI spent some time reading the Koran tonight. Just chapter 9. I admit to not being well-versed in this text … I had just heard that chapter 9 would be an interesting read. And, I’ve been encouraged to consider this book as a set of sacred texts that are just another version of the eclectic enterprise that is human religion.

But is it?

9.5 – “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.”

9.14 – “Fight them! Allah will chastise them at your hands, and He will lay them low and give you victory over them.”

9.29 – “Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah.”

9.30 – “Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah … Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!”

9.31 – “They have taken as lords beside Allah …the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God.”

9.33 – “He … sent His messenger … that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse.”img14

9.36 – “Wage war on all of the idolaters.”

 

9.41 – “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed.”

9.73 – “Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell.”

9.80 – “Ask forgiveness for them (O Muhammad), or ask not forgiveness for them; though thou ask forgiveness for them seventy times Allah will not forgive them.”

9.111 – “Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain … Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph.”

9.113 – “It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin (to them) after it hath become clear that they are people of hell-fire.”

9.122 – “And the believers should not all go out to fight. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion, and that they may warn their folk.”

9.123 – “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).

These texts are a far cry from the Biblical call to love my neighbor. To turn the other cheek. To not live (or die) by the sword. To pray for and extend forgiveness. To be the servant of all. To sacrifice.

With all due respect … we are not family. The God depicted in these texts is not the God that was revealed in Jesus the Christ. It is ignorance of both sets of texts to tell me they should be compatible.

(These texts are also obvious examples of how violence and terrorism can be extrapolated easily from the Islamic texts. I know many Muslims claim that their faith is peaceful. But you have to be theologically creative to purge the obvious violence from these teachings.)

The practical, relevant difference between this text and the Bible should not be missed: As Christians, we are to serve, love, and pray for those who don’t believe as we do. Our hope is that we “might win some” (1 Cor. 9:22). So, yes, Christians are the ones, the unique ones, who are called, and even equipped by the Holy Spirit, to COEXIST with all peoples. We don’t believe in universal salvation … but social cohesion, mutual honoring, and a peaceful society?

My family is all in.

– EO

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Last Minute Gift Idea

Read Amos 8:7-10

(As we get closer to Christmas day, all of our cultural cues are telling us to immerse ourselves in nice thoughts and cozy things. Thus, it gets harder for us to look squarely at the tough passages in Amos. Hang in there with me! It is always darkest toward the dawn. Keep your hope stretched, your longing strong, and remain an Advent disciple to the end. I truly believe it will enhance your celebration of the 12 Days of Christmastide.)

A reminder before we get started: The people of Israel at this time thought everything was fine! Sales were up, net worth was up, attendance at attractive church services was up … how odd that this Judean farm boy was saying these ridiculous things about our need to repent!…

Each week, during our church’s morning worship service, we begin with Confession and Absolution. We collectively obey the scriptures to together confess our sins, and then we receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness, according to His Word (e.g., 1 John 1:8-9). Each week, I walk through the shame of my personal valley of the shadow of death, and am taken to the green pastures of experienced grace. My soul depends on this. As the Psalmist says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). Instead, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 130:12).

That’s why verse 8:7 is so startling to my eyes and ears. According to God-through-Amos, not only was Israel in the wrong, but they had taken the LORD to the point of no return. “The Lord has sworn … ‘surely I will never forget any of their deeds!’” If God said that to me … to any of us … we would be lost forever. Our eternal separation from God and consignment to the horrors of Hell would be final.

And my grief would be relentless. As Amos puts it, days would be dark, feasts would be cancelled, songs would be muted … and then, most severe of all, God says “I will make it like the mourning for an only son” (8:10). At our church recently, a family experienced the death of their only son. He was only 11 years old. The sense of loss was truly overwhelming. They, and everyone who knew them, spent many days in incredible grief. It’s a pain that this family, and our whole church, hope to never have to experience again.

But, that pain is the trajectory for our unsaved, unrepentant world. They are on a crash-course for a forever separation from the God they choose to ignore today.

Our world, blind and deaf to God, doesn’t need a gift, a cookie, a cup of wassail, a carol and a snuggle. The gift they so badly need is the gift of repentance. They need not only the baby in the manger, but the piercing truth of His words, and the benefits of His cross.

Our Father God is truly “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3) He chose to experience the loss of His only Son, so that our collective grief can be replaced by joy to the world. Amos boldly called the people back to God. Will we do the same? And, by doing so, go beyond the cozy Christmas glaze, and introduce the lost to the only gift that matters?

– EO

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Evangelism

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I Have Until Friday?

Read Amos 7:1-9

I have a hypothetical situation for you. Suppose God came to you with a choice: He was either going to send Jesus to return right now, or on Friday. If He returns right now, you are changed to your immortal body in the twinkling of an eye, and all the features of heaven are yours to experience, right now! Or, if you wait until Friday, you have three days to make one last appeal to the unbelievers in your life … and then you get the blessings of His coming.

Which would you choose?

By the way, this isn’t very hypothetical (except the Friday part). The Apostle Peter tells us that “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly … The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come, like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:7-13).

I thought about this passage from the New Testament while reading Amos 7. Here, Amos is privy to a vision of a God-initiated infestation of locusts, in judgment of the people of Israel. Amos says, “O Lord God, please forgive!” The LORD relents. Next, Amos sees that God is preparing another act of judgment – this time a catastrophic fire. Amos cries, “O Lord God, please cease!” The Lord relents. Amos knows they are guilty. Amos knows they are deserving. But He begs the Lord for mercy, and they receive it because of Amos’ intercession.

Are you ready to stand in the gap between the promised judgment of your righteous God, and the hell-bent people around you? Would you do all you can to delay that final verdict and sentence on their sin? I guess the question isn’t, “are you ready?”, but rather “are you doing it?” … because this is our situation right now. Actually, we may not have until Friday. It may be in the next five minutes.

But maybe God will relent on His own? Maybe the universalists are right – that everyone will enjoy God’s favor, because He’s a God of love, and our “sin” ain’t so bad? Verses 7-9 put an end to such talk. Yes, God has twice shown mercy to His sinful people, but this time…

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them [e.g., extend my mercy and wait] and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam [cf., Israel] with the sword.”

Image result for "everyone goes to heaven" signA plumb line is “a ​piece of ​string with a ​weight ​attached to one end, used either to ​test if something ​vertical is ​exactly ​straight”. God is going to, once and for all, measure the people. It will be based His standards, his right-ness, His holiness. On that day, if you don’t “measure up”, your destruction is upon you.

“But nobody’s perfect! Who will be able to stand up against the measure of God’s plumb line?” Only one has ever been perfect- Jesus, the Christ. He offers you His righteousness for the plumb line test. In fact, He offers His righteousness to everyone you know. Have you let them know that it’s available? You may want to get that word out …

Because it may be useful on Friday.

A bit more on this text tomorrow…

– EO

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology, Evangelism

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,